A TIFR effort, the two volumes contain over 700 pages in mathematician's neat hand
The familiar face of Srinivasa Ramanujan looks up in relief from two classy hardback volumes in black. Inside is proof of the mathematician's genius. For both form and content, there can be no doubt that the second edition of Notebooks of Srinivasa Ramanujan is a collector's edition.
The notebooks of the ‘man who knew infinity,' originally believed to have been written down on loose sheets of paper, have kept mathematicians busy for over a century, scrambling to provide derivations for the results. An effort by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, the two volumes contain over 700 pages in Ramanujan's neat hand, some of his finest work. The books also have a foreword from Bruce Berndt, American mathematician known for his work in explaining the results Ramanujan postulated in his notebooks.
It is believed that Ramanujan actually worked out the problems on a slate in an attempt to save paper, using the sheets only to note down results. Since the discovery of the notebooks, mathematicians have wrestled with the results trying to arrive at plausible derivations. Most of the work has now been solved, thanks to Professor Brendt, according to M.S. Raghunathan, Vice-Chairman of the National Committee supervising the Ramanujan 125 year celebrations.
The books were launched at a function in which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh participated here on Monday. The release was possible with help from the archiving and digitising team at the Roja Muthiah Research Library (RMRL) in Chennai.
The production quality is of excellent standard, a huge improvement over the first edition published in 1957, again by the TIFR.
“They were the same notebooks, but the technology was not as advanced as it is now. So the publication was in black and white,” explains Professor Raghunathan. The current edition has reproduced faithfully the different colours Ramanujan originally used for his longhand.
RMRL director G. Sundar details the process involved in producing the new edition: “The 1957 edition was in a very bad shape. With the available technology of those days, they took a photostat and then published the books. As a result, the contrast was not satisfactory, either too bright or too light between foreground and text.” So, the RMRL asked the TIFR to locate the original plates used to print the first edition, but they could not be found. It was then decided to use the original manuscripts being preserved in the University of Madras.
“They gave us the manuscripts for a few days. Though readable, we found that the corners had turned and there was some distortion. We decided to copy them in all formats — microfilm (black and white), scanned images stored digitally. The microfilm is key, because we used that for the printing. Since we knew the colours [from the scanned images], we rendered them finally on the black and white microfilm. The inner pages are now a delight,” Dr. Sundar, an archivist himself, explained.
The entire process took about nine months, with a team of 14 people comprising, both in-house experts and technology experts from outside, working on the notebooks. The graphic images are also being stored with the RMRL and the TIFR, in order to be able to vectorise them for editing and resizing later.
The book will be available with the TIFR for sale, likely in a week, Professor Raghunathan added.